As I was walking down the street tonight on my way to pick up my regular evening salad, and thinking to myself, “Should I have cucumber? Long Bean? or papaya tonight?” I spotted a newcomer. Or at least, she hasn’t been there since I’ve had my eagle eyes on the road.
She was an older woman who was standing across from where my regular salad maker usually stands. I was immediately intrigued but I felt slightly guilty. What if my salad lady saw me ordering salads from someone else? Especially after she taught me how to ask for cucumber salad (yum tang gwa) or long been (tum mar toawr)! I sheepishly looked towards her stall, but she wasn’t there tonight! So I sidled up to the new woman and waited for her to look up from the salad she was pound pound pounding.
An older woman with 3 teeth came over to me and patted her stomach. In broken English, she conveyed the idea that pregnant women crave this salad. Or maybe she was trying to tell me I looked pregnant? I’m going with the former assumption! She rubbed her tummy and then turned away, laughing. Interesting. I was now more curious as to what this crave inducing salad was compromised of. Was it the yin to the American woman’s pickle and ice cream craving yang?
The woman finished the salad she’d been working on and looked up at me to see what I wanted. I pointed to the bowl and indicated I wanted one too. “Ow ee neung” I said, totally tonally incorrectly. But she got the idea and started mashing.
A handful of tangy yellow fruits, pit and all. A hand full of chilis (cause it has to be phet phet!), lime, fish sauce, palm sugar. Mash mash mash. A bit of that yellow citrus fruit which I don’t know what it is, tomatoes, peanuts mash mash mash. Then…she sliced whole green bananas, skins and all, into the mix. Added one fermented crab. Then more mashing ensued. Lots of it. She was about to baggy up my salad when I noticed she didn’t put in one of the sauces that she added to the last lady’s bag. I pointed to it and she raised her eyebrows. I raised mine too. ‘Why can’t I have what that other Thai woman had?’, was the expression in my eyes. She lifted the lid and scooped a big ladle full of what looked like muddy water…with floating fish in it. It was a thick, briny, stinky fish sauce. Yep…that’s what I wanted!
She gave the mortar a final swirl with her spoon and slipped my mashed salad into a bag. I was so curious!! My taste buds were tingling with anticipation. I skipped home and put the salad in my fridge. I find I like the salads more once they’re a bit chilled and have had some time to marinate. A bit later I pulled out the fishy salad, which now looked like soup, and plopped it into a bowl. To be quite honest, I hesitated a bit at the first bite (which is something I hardly ever do). But I didn’t know what starchy green bananas, fish sauce and unknown citrus fruits would taste like. I cautiously moved the salad around in my mouth…and shortly thereafter I almost polished off the bag. I had to restrain myself from finishing it.
It was intensely delicious. Bright acidic flavors from the tiny fruits, chew from the lemon citrus unknown things, sweetness from the tomatoes, and the fish sauce rounded everything out with an umami richness. It had bite (though the pits were a bit annoying) and the bananas weren’t nearly as green tasting as I’d expected. Actually, they didn’t taste green at all. Perhaps all her vigorous mashing did the trick? I was originally only buying the salad out of curiosity, and I’d assumed I’d only take a bite or two. But…
Nope! I’m already craving another one. The next time I see that woman on the street, I’m ordering another one of those funky salads. Just as long as my other salad lady isn’t anywhere nearby…